Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Sunday that the suspect charged in the Christchurch mosque shootings, an Australian citizen, would be tried in New Zealand.
A 28-year-old man from Australia has been charged with murder and appeared Saturday morning in a Christchurch courtroom. Court papers identified him as Brenton Harrison Tarrant.
Ardern said he would face more charges, but she did not say whether terrorism charges were being considered. She said she was seeking advice on whether Tarrant might be extradited to Australia, but that his trial would take place in New Zealand.
“He will certainly face the justice system of New Zealand for the terror attack he has committed here,” she said.
There was no other shooter, Ardern said. She said one person had been taken into custody as a result of evidence collected during the investigation but that there was no evidence he was linked to the attack that killed 50 people.
Ardern said that her government would discuss New Zealand’s gun laws at a meeting on Monday.
“There will be changes to our gun laws,” she said at an afternoon news conference.
She also said she would look into reports that there had been a surge in gun sales in New Zealand since the attack on Friday.
The shooting has vaulted New Zealand into what could be a divisive political battle over gun control in the country, where an extraordinary number of people own weapons, with few restrictions. Authorities say the suspect in the assault used five guns he had acquired legally, including two semi-automatic assault weapons.
Within hours of the Friday killings, the prime minister promised changes to gun laws and said regulations of semi-automatic weapons were “one of the issues.” New Zealand’s attorney general, David Parker, appeared to go beyond that statement at a vigil for the victims on Saturday, indicating that semi-automatic weapons would be banned, but he later backtracked. Parker told Radio New Zealand that had been trying to reflect Ardern’s comments that “we need to ban some semiautomatics, perhaps all of them.”
“Those decisions have yet to be taken, but the prime minister has signaled that we are going to look at that issue,” Parker told the broadcaster.
Licensed New Zealand gun owners pushed back. The Kiwi Gun Blog, a gun-rights online publication, said that among the mosque shooter’s goals, one was “to cause the gun rights of responsible New Zealanders to be attacked.” It said “our prime minister is now capitulating with him.”
There is no dispute that acquiring a military-style semi-automatic weapon is relatively easy in New Zealand, where guns are plentiful. According to a 2017 small arms survey, there are more than 1.2 million firearms among the population of 4.6 million.
Under New Zealand law, anyone 16 or older may seek a firearms license, and anyone 18 or older who has applied for a firearms license can seek a permit to possess a military-style semi-automatic weapon.
In the United States, the National Rifle Association, a leading advocate of gun-owner rights, issued its first statement on the attack, denouncing the killer while saying nothing about the weapons used.
“It doesn’t matter if these senseless tragedies occur in the United States or abroad, our deepest sympathies are with the victims and their families,” said Andrew Arulanandam, a spokesman for the group. “This was the act of a monster. To the extent the NRA is ridiculed for extending our deepest sympathies to those impacted by this horrific event, we make no apologies for our thoughts, words or prayers.”
In an exclusive interview with Australia’s 9News, the family of the suspect condemned the attack and offered an apology to the families of the victims.
“We’re so sorry for the families over there, for the dead and the injured,” Terry Fitzgerald, the suspect’s uncle, said. “We can’t think nothing else. We just want to go home and hide.”
The suspect’s grandmother Marie Fitzgerald, 81, said: “We are all gobsmacked. We don’t know what to think.”
“The media is saying he’s planned it for a long time,” she added. “So he’s obviously not of sound mind, I don’t think.”
According to the 9News’ report, Brenton Harrison Tarrant had traveled to Europe after his father died of cancer 2010. The trips came at a time when Islamic extremism was on the rise, it said.
“It was only since he traveled overseas, I think, that that boy has changed,” Fitzgerald said.
They first learned that Tarrant was the suspect in the massacre while watching television, the report said. At first, the uncle said, they couldn’t believe it. But then they saw his photo.
“It’s unrepairable,” Fitzgerald said.
Tarrant was a member of the Bruce Rifle Club in New Zealand, the club confirmed on Sunday.
The club is about a 35-minute drive from Dunedin, New Zealand, where Tarrant lived. In a statement, the club said it had about 100 members, all of whom are licensed to own and use firearms.
Tarrant joined the Bruce Rifle Club last February, Scott Williams, the club’s vice president, said in an interview. He said Tarrant appeared to already have shooting skills and typically went to the range by himself.
The club has been closed until further notice, Williams said.
The airport in Dunedin, the city where the suspect had lived, was closed Sunday evening after a “report of a suspicious package on the airfield,” authorities said.
“Police are at the scene and specialist teams have been deployed to determine the nature of the package,” the New Zealand police said in a statement.
Earlier Sunday evening, an armed police officer stood watch outside the address in Dunedin that was listed in court documents as Tarrant’s home. About a five-minute drive from the center of Dunedin, the second-largest city on the South Island of New Zealand, the pale blue-gray house had air-conditioning units, wide rectangular windows with open curtains, a satellite dish sitting at the top of a cement stairway and an overgrown yard. The mailbox bore a sticker reading: “NO JUNK MAIL. Thank you!”
Several people who lived nearby said they did not know many of their neighbors and had not met Tarrant. They described the neighborhood in the Andersons Bay suburb of Dunedin as a mix of rented and owned homes.
Carl Tainui, who lives nearby, was out walking Sunday evening and said he was “shocked” that such “total hatred” had allegedly originated so close to his home.
Over the weekend, the police had blocked off the road in the Dunedin neighborhood while a bomb squad searched the area. The street was shut down from Friday evening until midday Saturday. By Sunday evening, journalists swarmed the area, knocking on doors and filming outside Tarrant’s house.
Thirty-four victims of the shootings remain in Christchurch Hospital, 12 of them in critical condition, officials said Sunday.
A 4-year-old girl also remains in critical condition at a children’s hospital in Auckland, where she was flown after the attack.
A Christchurch Hospital spokesman, David Meates, said that on Saturday the hospital treated nine new victims of the Friday attack. They arrived with cuts, embedded glass fragments and injuries to their backs, knees and feet.
The prime minister also said that Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook, had shared her condolences over the shootings, parts of which were livestreamed on the social media platform.
On Sunday, Facebook said it had removed 1.5 million videos of the attack that had been posted worldwide, including 1.2 million that were blocked at upload. The company said it was also removing edited versions of the video that did not show graphic content.
The police on Sunday said the death toll had risen to 50 as officials discovered another body at the mosque on Deans Avenue, where most of the victims had been killed. Another 50 people were injured.